photo: ava gardner, photography a treacherous medium, republicans and porn another saga

Ava Gardner by Arnold Newman

M’s Gardner played Maxine Faulk in the film version of the Tennessee Williams play The Night of the Iguana (1964). As much as the dialog propels the story in this film as in most of Williams work there is actually more in the subtext then the actual narrative. Gardner’s Maxine makes Meredith in Grey’s Anatomy look like a novice lost in a Vegas casino, but if you’re looking for a character to invest some feelings, Maxine is really the most deserving. Her outer hedonist is just a mask for a woman who doesn’t simply want true love, she wants to believe that such a thing really exists. Until someone comes along to make her believe it does, she’ll just swim, dance, and enjoy some mindless companionship, thank you very much.

Gardner also played a small, but integral part as Ellie Holbrook in a political thriller called Seven Days in May (1964). It has become a kind of shorthand to say this movie is about a military take over of the government. Too simplistic, one of the heroes of the movie is Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey(Kirk Douglas). It was about some militaristic authoritarians on the far right that thought they knew more about what was good for America then the founding fathers and the American people. Made 42 years ago and still relevant.

The Treacherous Medium

    Susan Sontag’s On Photography was published in 1977, and it remains astonishingly incisive. It has been, rightly, immensely influential on other photography critics. And immensely influential, too, in setting the particularly reproachful tone of photography criticism. Look, for instance, at Sontag’s description of photography in the first chapter of the book, which establishes a voice, an attitude, an approach that is maintained throughout. Sontag describes photography as, among other things, “grandiose,” “treacherous,” “imperial,” “voyeuristic,” “predatory,” “addictive,” “reductive,” and “the most irresistible form of mental pollution.” A typical sentence reads, “The camera doesn’t rape, or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate—all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment.” Metaphor indeed! On Photography was written by a brilliant skeptic.

So, too, was Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, first published in France in 1980. Delicate and playful, this book is a love letter to the photograph. Barthes celebrates the quirky, spontaneous reactions that photographs can inspire—or at least the quirky, spontaneous reactions they inspire in him: “ A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” Still, Camera Lucida is a very odd valentine, for Barthes describes photographers as “agents of Death” and the photograph as a “catastrophe”; also as “flat,” “platitudinous,” “stupid,” “without culture,” and—most unkind—‚ “undialectical.” The photograph “teaches me nothing,” Barthes insists: it “completely de-realizes the world of human conflicts and desires.”

It is not so much a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Sontag about photography as much as painting and sculpture can also be “grandiose,” “treacherous,” “imperial,” “voyeuristic,” “predatory,” “addictive” and “reductive”.  Barthes may push it too far in the sense that the mass production of the camera makes the medium ultra egalitarian it is inevitable that out of the billions of photos that are taken that yes most of them will be “flat” and “without culture”. So what, paint by numbers kits avaibale to the masses in hobby stores doesn’t make paintiing as an art form “undialectical”. I want to think that photography can be art, but if I wanted to make the case that it wasn’t I wouldn’t start at its weakest point.

‘Flesh and Boners’ and Republican donors

 First there was Jeff Gannon, the gay prostitute and faux journo mysteriously given passes to White house press conferences. Then there was Mark Foley. But that one’s fresh in your mind.

The latest from Josh Marshall: “It turns out that the Republican National Committee is a regular recipient of political contributions from Nicholas T. Boyias, the owner and CEO of Marina Pacific Distributors, one of the largest producers and distributors of gay porn in the United States.”

The hypocrisy is frighteningly standard. The GOP’s in a bind. They need cultural conservative votes in order to win, yet they don’t give a flying f**k about their values, beliefs, or needs. As far as whom they take money from or what kind of lives their operatives and candidates lead, well, those are clearly of little to no concern.

Which is also why leaders like James Dobson, Tony Perkins and others are in danger of damaging their reputations, but good. Forced to shut their eyes to parts of the Republican Party they don’t agree with, they wind up making deals that compromise their ethics and values. When their followers get wise to the reality of politics, as they eventually will, it’ll take a herculean effort to patch things up. (emphasis mine)

This story reminds me of a pet theory. That conservatism and its practitioners make up not so much a legitimate political school of thought as much as a quasi-religion, and as such as reminds me of Thomas W. Higginson who observed, “All … religions show the same disparity between belief and practice, and each is safe till it tries to exclude the rest.” Republicans have become good at rationalizing that huge gap between what they say and what they actually do.


photo:tram trip, the aesthetics of scents, blue jeans to fight cancer

tram trip 

When we decide that something is beautiful or not that decision rests overwhelmingly with one sense, sight. Not a bad thing, millions of years of evolutionary trial and error has left mammals with an incredible tool. Though sight is not the only sensory tool we have to decide whether something has positive aesthetic qualities. Hearing of course. But what about the other “lower” senses like taste, touch, and smell. In other words can something taste, feel, or smell beautiful.  Reflections on an Aesthetics of Touch, Smell and Taste

 Aestheticians have also doubted that the so-called lower senses are able to achieve that structural complexity that would be required to sustain our attention over time. This objection, once raised by Harold Osborne for smells, was invalidated by the creators of fragrances, who emphasized the high number of components of each scent, as well as its multileveled structure and temporal development.

Some years ago I read that smelling something that reminded you of a person or event can bring back some of our most compelling and vivid memories. Perfumes and colognes are obvious choices, but suede jackets still bring back memories of a certain year of my life. Those memories in turn have an aesthetic value. Japanese honeysuckle and freshly cut grass always brings back memories of summer when I was a kid and my grandmother and grandfather. What scent, if you close your eyes and think about it bring back the most captivating memories for you?

 Blue jean dye kills cancer cells 

 The dye in your blue jeans could soon be used to kill cancer cells, say scientists.

UK researchers are employing tiny gold “nanoparticles”, 1/5000th the thickness of a human hair, to deliver the chemical compound directly into cancer cells, tearing them apart instantly.

The common dye found in blue jeans and ballpoint pens is called phthalocyanine and is a light-activated, or photosensitive, agent with cell-destroying properties.

This has been known for at least 15 years but, until now, scientists have not been able to successfully deliver it into cells; hence there’s no harm in wearing blue jeans.

In what I remember from my bio-chem classes one of the problems with any new drug treatment was getting the compound to be very specific so that it would not harm good cells or being able to switch the drug on and off. That they might be able to handle the second problem as regards phthalocyanine  with light is pretty amazing. And I thought my jeans just protected me from being uncomfortable while I surf the net

photo: time and the city, the clock paleo superhero, are republican men all gay

time and the city 

There was, before the invention of the transistor and television, but way after the invention of irritating self appointed pundits was a comic book hero called The Clock. What were his superpowers? Apparently the ability to play polo, wear a black mask and fight crime while wearing a very elegant tux. To read the comic use numbers at the bottom, the stuff on the side leads to a few other forgotten superheros.

There are many good things to say about city life. One of them is the lack of giant spiders, Video: “World’s Largest Spider” Stalks South American Jungles 

White Bread, Cinammon Toast

 Josh Marshall asks: What’s Bob Corker’s deal with Harold Ford’s sex life?”

I believe I can answer that, having seen a few Douglas Sirk movies in my time.

Bob Corker is gay. He may not know it yet, he may never know it, he may go to his sarcophagus wrapped in denial, but his fascination with Ford’s prowess and good looks gives him away, as does his political affiliation. All Republican political figures are gay, especially the men. When President Bush insists on kissing one bald head after another, the psychosexual symbolism speaks for itself. He’s planting his lips on big uncircumcised Kojak peckers. When Rush Limbaugh packs his Viagra and jets off on a tropical jaunt with the guys, it’s assumed there are saucy wenches awaiting him under the sultry palms, but I wonder–I wonder if it’s cabana boys making the hammock sway under the moonlight. Republican women–those masochistic saints–are more like Joan Allen playing Pat Nixon under layers of frosting, their rigid smiles forged by years of living a lie with a man infatuated with other men and too timid to take out a subscription to Details magazine, lest he be exposed. [ the rest at the link ]

To those that would take offense at Wolcott’s little satire, a reminder of some book titles written by conservatives: Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, Deliver Us from Evil : Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism,  and In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror 

Speaking of books this one is actually worth reading, How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok by Glenn Greenwald

natalie imbruglia’s asian tattoo, 7 tips for the indie filmmaker, conservative cowardice

m’s imbruglia tattoo larger

Natalie Imbruglia’s profile on Wikipedia.

Other recordings

In 1999 Natalie released the single “Identify,” considered by many fans to be among her best recordings despite its relative obscurity. Written by Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame, the dark, brooding song — an artistic departure for Natalie —appeared only on a CD single and on the soundtrack for the movie Stigmata.

Personal Causes

Natalie has campaigned to end poverty and to bring attention to the disease known as fistula, defined as an abnormal connection or passageway between organs or vessels that normally do not connect.

There are 7 tips at the link. Chris Ullrich does a very nice job of covering everything from concept to script to contracts, hiring actors and post production. Of course no blog post can tell you everything you want to know or need to know, but it is a good place to start. This is not just a blogger pretending to know more then he does Ullrich has experience producing films. B or C films, but films never the less. Just some highlight quotes from Tips for the Indie Filmmaker

1. Keep it simple – Sure, a film about World War II featuring the invasion of Normandy like Saving Private Ryan or a movie where the climax takes place on top of the Empire State Building like King King or a film with thousand of computer generated soldiers like The Lord of the Rings might seem like exciting projects, and they are just not within your budget….

get your mind wrapped around the idea of planning ahead.

Get it in writing —

A good actor can make a poorly written script come alive and turn your stale dialog into prose worthy of Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet. Well, I might be exaggerating a little there but even so, SAG actors have been vetted and in many cases are more professional

Post-production is the clean-up, and has saved more films than I can count…

And one last bit for the day, Army Blocking Soldiers In Iraq From Reading Progressive Websites, Fringe Right Websites Allowed

As most visitors here can tell I’m of the old fashioned American values Bill of Rights school. That means that among other things I’m not big on censorship. If these conservatives are so right about everything, what are they afraid of. Are they afraid that TPM will expose the troops to the truth about Republican corruption that have directly affected the effectiveness of the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism? Or that the Huffington Post or DailyKos will pull back the curtain and expose the almost daily hypocrisy of conservatives and the untold ways conservatives are hurting America to our troops? Stalin would be proud. By any definition this kind of censorship is just plain cowardice.

maya ruin and architecture, a philosophy of performance?

chichen itza maya ruin
Kind of a generic introduction, but great for a quick casual read, Maya architecture

As unique and spectacular as any Greek or Roman architecture, Maya architecture spans many thousands of years; yet, often the most dramatic and easily recognizable as Maya are the fantastic stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. Being based on the general Mesoamerican architectural traditions these pyramids relied on intricate carved stone in order to create a stair-step design. Each pyramid was dedicated to a deity whose shrine sat at its peak. During this “height” of Maya culture, the centers of their religious, commercial and bureaucratic power grew into incredible cities, including Chichen Itza, Tikal, and Uxmal. Through observation of the numerous consistent elements and stylistic distinctions, remnants of Maya architecture have become an important key to understanding the evolution of their ancient civilization.

From a modern day perspective from someone that appreciates a comfy sofa and a chair with back support, I look at this photo and think how amazing and uncomfortable. It is not just that building techniques and materials have changed since the Maya built this pyramid in the Yucatan somewhere between  514 A.D. and 1194 ( early in the period rather then later). The idea that structures were built without much regard for physical comfort is amazing. The limestone had to be quarreled by hand and took massive amounts of manpower to erect these giant cuts of stone into place. Not so they could lounge around in them and relax afterward or even conduct business in a proficient manner. No it was all done for their leaders and their deities. Other then the refrigerator and the oven the most under appreciated aspect of modern culture and design, is the cushion. It must have been a masochistic culture. At the end of a long hard day you got to stretch out on a hard slab. Sure there is a lot of scholarly intelligent theories as to why maya civilization vanished, but I think life without a cushioned chairs and sofas was  probably the last straw.

Why does the act of performance mean so much to us? Almost everyone reading this cannot imagine life without TV, radio, or movie theaters. We all grew up watching people. Performance Is The Thing  

Romantic aestheticians would have it that art, and by extension, performance, is a heightening of the common human activity of expressing emotions to the point where they are experienced and rendered lucid to the performer and audience in a way that is rarely seen in everyday life. Performance in its ideal expression can even give you creative license to transform what you think is possible. Here I am brought to mind of Martin Luther King. Anybody can have a radical message, but how did King disseminate his message of non-violence and racial equality in such a way that his achievements represent a powerful paradigm shift in the way any self-respecting society views itself? King was a pastor, an orator, an eloquent public speaker. In essence he was a performer; but as a performer he was a visionary who became the living embodiment of his dream. This is what makes him a great performer. A great performer such as King opens the windows of human desire and ultimately shapes attitudes and insights that change cultures.

estuary sunset wallpaper, a healthy dose of arendt, the russians will save us

estuary at sunset larger 

I like estuaries and salt marshes and since we’ve had the classic fall photos I thought this made for a good break in the visual cliche of what autumn looks like.

Ever heard or read the quote “The banality of evil”? Did you know that it was written by political theorist Hannah Arendt? It has come to define what she is and as succinct as the thoughts are expressed in that phrase there was more to her then that. So much more that it is something of a crime that if people can remember who to attribute the quote to they cannot remember the writer’s contribution to American political thought or feminism. A Healthy Dose of Heroine

Still, Young-Bruehl repeatedly and successfully unpacks Arendt’s views of such concepts as action, power, forgiveness, judgment, radical evil, revolution, and the human condition itself. Arendt’s phrasemaking and popularization of notions such as “totalitarianism” developed because she “wanted thoughts and words adequate to the new world and able to dissolve clichés, reject thoughtlessly received ideas, break down hackneyed analyses, expose lies and bureaucratic double talk, help people withdraw from their addiction to propagandistic images.” She persuasively suggests that Arendt’s ideas informed such modern political phenomena as Poland’s Solidarity movement and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and credits her with being ahead of the curve on globalization.

If Young-Bruehl veers toward the reverential and Schor toward the empathetic, both authors take strength and intellectual confidence from their encounters. Emerson hovered over Lazarus, and Heidegger loomed over Arendt. Lazarus shoots darts of inspiration at Schor, and Arendt’s distinctions suffuse Young-Bruehl’s thought. Two ladies with lamps illuminating predecessors so they don’t become mere statues. That’s progress.

From a review of a new book called Why Arendt Matters  (Yale University Press, 2006).

Russia can repel asteroids to save Earth: official

The institute’s specialists are particularly concerned about an asteroid known as Number 2907, a kilometer-wide chunk of space rock that they believe “with a large degree of certainty” will strike the Earth on December 16, 2880.

The entire Soviet empire couldn’t manage to make a good watch for fifty years, but they have the whole asteroid thing under control.

photo: lines and color, architecture and movies

color and lines

To get away for at least a day from culture and soical issues just a little bit on architecture. It odd how color can give more depth to an object like a wall and lead the eye around and up. The awareness of how color and shapes can be planned to lead the eye of the observer in certain directions is one of the subtle ways that well designed buildings draw us in as observers.

Architecture has played a large though silent role in movies for years. Lived Space in Architecture and Cinema . The photos at the link are from movies that are over fifty years old yet look futuristic. Buildings are there as a kind of motif in the same way that the repetition of some key words are in short stories. The buildings set a mood; if you see a barn or white picket fence you’re probably not about to watch a film that has the pace, the grit of a film where the opeining scene is the front of the Empire State Building. The movies have in turn influenced architecture,

The interaction of cinema and architecture – the inherent architecture of cinematic expression, and the cinematic essence of architectural experience – is equally many- sided. Both are art forms brought about with the help of a host of specialists, assistants and co-workers. Regardless of their unavoidable nature as the products of collective effort, both film and architecture are arts of the auteur, of the individual artistic creator. The relations of the two art forms could, for instance, be studied from a multitude of viewpoints: how different directors depict a city, as Walter Ruttman in Berlin, der Sinfonie der Grossstadt (1927) or Fritz Lang in Metropolis (1927); how buildings or rooms are presented, as in German Expressionist films with their fantasy architecture suspended between reality and dream; over the real architectural projects of these architects of notable buildings. An architect who made superb projects both as a designer of buildings and set designer was Paul Nelson. His project Maison Suspendue (1936-38), a house in which individual rooms are suspended withing a steel-and-glass cage like bird nests, is as fantastic as any of the ideas expressed through the art form of projected illusion. Vice versa, one could speculate on the kind of buildings the wizards of cinema architecture would have built had they not decided to devote their architectural talent to the service of the illusory art of cinema.8

Marcel L’ Herbier, L’ Inhumanite,1924.

Furthermore, we could take the influence of cinema on today’s architecture as our subject of study. Vincent Korda’s visions of multi-storey atria in Things to Come, for instance, have fully materialized, five decades later, in John Portman’s gigantic hotel projects. Portman’s projects are an example of an architecture which cold-bloodedly serves the economic interests of the developer, utilizing means of persuasion deriving from stage sets designed for cinematic spectacles. The thematized architecture produced by the Walt Disney Corporation during the past decade with the help of a host of international star architects, also reverts to the strategy of illusion and seduction familiar from film. But even artistically more serious architecture today often seeks its inspiration and visual strategy from the language of movies. Jean Nouvel, for instance, declares cinematic imagery and experience as a significant inspiration for his architectural work

Its a little stuffy in a scholarly way, but if you can wade through the whole thing little lights of recognition go off, especially if you’ve seen some of the older films that he mentions. I think Metropolis is in the public domain, but I can’t find a download link for it. There are quite a few older films where buildings, shapes, and shadows are  important elements of the film like The Man Who Knew Too Much available for download at the Internet Archive.